Last night was Back to School night and I knew they were going to be there. Who is “they” you might wonder? The PTA. Yep, it was only a matter of time before I had a school-age child and therefore would be faced with the opportunity to join the Parent Teacher Association at her school.

For anyone who really knows me, my track record of not volunteering hasn’t been so good. It started young with me. I did whatever I could to get involved in organizations in my community especially after college. I had a 9 to 5 job working at a non-profit, followed by a 6 to 11 pm retail job, and somewhere in there I managed to find the time to both serve on a board of a non-profit and coach a girls soccer team. I didn’t even have kids of my own yet who played soccer.

Looking back, I’m pretty sure I did things to make myself seem more attractive on paper or to make myself seem promotable in the workforce and not because I truly wanted to do those things. I spread myself really thin back then as I tried to get ahead in the world. But even though I wanted to get ahead I couldn’t escape the fact that getting involved and giving back to my community felt really good.

I would argue that once you experience volunteering it becomes hard to not volunteer. It’s a difficult cycle to break. It can be addictive. It feels so good to be a part of something and to give back to others less fortunate or to work towards a common goal with like-minded people. But I seem to like to learn the hard way; it only feels good when you really are in touch with what you can do and there is balance in your personal life.

I had a prominent role in a local non-profit when the organization hit a rough patch and I was asked to deal with it. In my personal life I had just had a new baby and little did I know I was suffering from Perinatal Mood Disorder. It was so challenging for me to do anything beneficial for the organization and in trying I felt that my world got rocked emotionally in a way that really wasn’t good for me or my family.  We all suffered and for a good period of time I suspended all volunteer activity until I could get myself well again.

As a mother of three and another baby on the way, it was an act of Divine intervention that last night, at Back to School Night, I didn’t sign up to be the Room Parent for Olivia’s class. There was the sign-up sheet for volunteers and as I sat and listened to the teacher talk about volunteering I remember actively thinking to myself, “Veronica! Do not sign up for anything just the bare minimum, you do not get to be Room Parent”.

Last year I took on the Room Parent role for my middle daughter’s preschool and I loved it but at times the job did get to be more than I thought I had signed up for. I ended up doing fundraising for the school’s fundraiser and I had been under the impression that a separate committee was handling that. It got a little uncomfortable for me feeling pressured into continually asking our parents, who were already giving so much, to give more. I had just wanted to be in charge of getting people informed and sending weekly emails, I didn’t know I’d be at monthly meetings and doing all of the things I was asked to do.

At the end of the day, being a Room Parent was a great experience, but I learned from it because now I really am aware that I have to really know what I am signing up for before I do it. I am someone who by nature always wants to do more than I am capable of and it can be a painful to continually feel like you are falling short when you just can’t give more.

I am very aware that without parents in our children’s schools, especially my daughter’s new school, the school would not be what it is today and frankly most schools may cease to function. It was hard for me not to sign up for more. I want to do more than I can always. But it felt so good to just be the new parent and not need to be the “Room Parent”.  I also am so happy to join the PTA and to not need to be in charge of anything, to just show up when I can or if I can and not feel obligated to do so.

Okay, full disclosure, although I did not sign up to be “Room Parent” I did volunteer to help on Fridays which is a morning when I have help at home watching the other two kids while Olivia is at school. So while it works out scheduling-wise, I am laughing at myself now because next to the word “Friday” on the sign-up sheet was the word “Garden”. I really didn’t ask what that meant. Maybe it is accompanying the children to the garden on Fridays. However, I have this feeling that I am going to be kicking myself as I’m hauling my 9-month pregnant belly out there to pull weeds for an hour. Sigh. Some people never learn and I confess I just might have a problem.